Abortions should be treated as a medical procedure and not a crime, Britain’s leading pregnancy doctors have said.
The Council for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which represents the group of doctors who provide the majority of abortion services across the UK, said abortions should be regulated in line with other procedures without criminal sanctions.
It urged that it was important to ensure women had access to “this key healthcare service”.
Currently in England, Wales and Scotland it is illegal to have a termination without approval from two doctors, and doing so could mean a prison term.
The Council came to the consensus after members voiced a range of views during a debate on the needs of women and girls accessing the service.
Following the decision, the president of the RCOG, Professor Lesley Regan, said: “I am pleased that the council of our college has voted in support of removing criminal sanctions associated with abortion.
“Having a formal position on decriminalisation will enable the college to usefully contribute to the debate surrounding what a post decriminalisation landscape might look like.
“I want to be clear that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, and abortion services should be subject to regulatory and professional standards, in line with other medical procedures.”
The college said it was not calling for any change in gestational limits for abortion, which it said should remain in place through the “appropriate regulatory and legislative process”.
The decriminalisation of abortion was also backed by doctors’ union the British Medical Association at the organisation’s annual conference in June.
In 2015, the RCOG Council identified the urgent need to ensure today’s abortion services were “safe, readily available and sustainable”, which led to the establishment of an Abortion Task Force to help to address issues in training, education and commissioning.
It said the adoption of the new position statement was another example of the RCOG, “standing up for the rights of women and girls on the issue of abortion.”
Kate Brian, the chair of the RCOG’s Women’s Network and member of the RCOG Council, said: “The Women’s Network was consulted on this vote and we fully support the College’s position on the removal of criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK.
“The Network appreciates the range of views women hold on this matter, but believes this important step will help improve access to this essential area of women’s healthcare.”
It comes after new findings indicated that women in the UK were seeking abortion services outside the formal healthcare system due to access barriers, privacy concerns and controlling circumstances.
Despite the procedure being legally available in Britain with the permission of doctors, the research from the University of Texas found that some women find it challenging or at times “impossible” to access abortion care through current service models.
Earlier this year, the UK Government said it would provide free abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland, where abortions are only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.
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